COMMUNITY VOICES | The right education conversation (on my own letterhead)

I'm often told I have a thankless job, that I must have thick skin. The truth is I love being an at-large school board member in Minneapolis; I'm grateful and privileged to do this work. That said, it's not surprising that hardly anyone wants to run for the Minneapolis school board. Lack of a living wage, too time consuming, the cost and complexity of a campaign, and fear of public humiliation often emerge as the discouraging factors. As a target of some who believe there is only one road to education reform, I understand the reluctance.

As a stay at home parent and active volunteer, I ran as an at-large school board member in 2010. Before that time, my political activism included paying attention, staying informed, and voting. Moving to Minneapolis mid-2008, I had a steep learning curve as a candidate with only one endorsement ~ Women Winning (that's right, I had no political or union endorsements). I raised a measly $1700, threw in a few thousand of my own for good measure and won a city wide school board race. As a parent turned politician, some would say I’m fair game for the critics. True. However, while I might be thick skinned, I’m pretty sick of the false and divisive narrative spun by folks claiming they ‘put kids first,’ a narrative that questions my integrity and motives. My loyalty to improving the academic outcomes of all students is reflected in the excessive time, energy, and preparation I put in to this work. My family is my life; the school board is my full time job. So why am I a target of the corporate education reformers?

I'll say it one last time then never mention it again (I promise). As a parent new to public office I signed a letter encouraging the previous school board to finalize the 2010 teacher's contract so the new board members (including myself and four others) could begin their service unburdened by the controversy that surrounded those negotiations. And yes, the letter was sent to the previous board on MFT letterhead. Bonehead mistake. Glaringly obvious now, of course and, admittedly, it should have occurred to me then how inappropriate it was. Not the letter itself, mind you, but the paper upon which it was printed.

Mahatma Gandhi said that “freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.” The past three years has presented me with many challenges, teachable moments, and personal growth opportunities. I went in with an open mind about a "portfolio" of options to make our district successful for all students. My beliefs about how we ensure better outcomes for all students has evolved. My record reflects my loyalty and commitment to the students and families in Minneapolis Public Schools. Advocating at the state and federal level for our students, achieving a balanced budget under my leadership as Board Treasurer in FY14, supporting a robust teacher and principal evaluation system, advocating to increase transparency, and taking every opportunity to engage and inform our diverse community are just a few examples of my work. The tremendous time and efforts I put forth are solely because of my unwavering vision of college/career readiness for all students. Gandhi also believed that “the weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” It’s time to shred the letter.

My commitment to our children is clear. My work is imperfect but not my intentions or belief in all children. While the reform agenda remains focused on belittling me, blaming teachers, and narrowing curriculum, I am focused on promoting policy, resource allocation and systems change that provide every student an opportunity to graduate from MPS prepared for post-secondary education and/or career. We can no longer be the district of new initiatives, where the slogan is "this too shall pass." We can no longer be distracted by the next best thing in education reform but must SHIFT our focus to the classroom ~ the right leadership in every school, an effective teacher in every classroom, and a supportive network of stakeholders invested in the success of all students. This work has begun in MPS, the wheels are in motion, so let's stay focused so we stay on track to accelerate achievement for all students. I have faith in our collective ability to meet the diverse needs of our students. Have faith that my loyalties lie with our students and families.

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    Rebecca Gagnon's picture
    Rebecca Gagnon